When we first heard that Secretary Hillary Clinton was to meet Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s new president, we had one strong reaction: Clinton must bring up equality in Egypt including women’s rights. And at the meeting this past Saturday, she did.
In her remarks after the meeting in Cairo, Clinton said:
The President and I discussed the importance of keeping Egypt’s democratic transition moving forward, and I commended him on his pledge to serve all Egyptians, including women and minorities and to protect the rights of all Egyptians. President Morsi made clear that he understands the success of his presidency and, indeed, of Egypt’s democratic transition depends on building consensus across the Egyptian political spectrum, to work on a new constitution at parliament, to protect civil society, to draft a new constitution that will be respected by all, and to assert the full authority of the presidency.
Women have been at the forefront of Egypt’s revolution. But developments since the revolution demonstrate that they continue to face the same systemic oppression and violence suffered under the Mubarak regime:
- Women made up less than 2% of the recently disbanded parliament, occupying only 8 seats out of 508.
- The male and Islamist-dominated parliament took up proposals to decrease the marriage age for girls from 16 to 14 and revoked a woman’s right to divorce her husband.
- Women continue to face widespread violence and harassment, including the military’s use of “virginity tests” against demonstrators.
In an oped on ForeignPolicy.com, Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino asked Clinton to Woman Up! She writes that there is “reason to question Morsi’s commitment to equality and pluralism” because he “represented the group’s older, more conservative wing, helping draft a 2007 platform that…held that a woman could not be president of Egypt.” Now that Morsi reaffirmed his commitment to equality and pluralism, he must turn his words into action–including by codifying women’s rights in the constitution.
Egyptians are skeptical about the U.S. role in their country. They know that the United States supported the Mubarak regime for decades and that it is funding the military during the transition period. The United States need to show that it has moved forward from its policy of supporting dictators in the region, and that it sides with the people. Clinton championing women’s rights in Egypt is a good first step.